The English translation for verse one does not make Paul’s point as forceful as it should. Most translations, like mine, begin with: “So if you have been raised with Christ . . . .” Paul’s use of the Greek “If” refers to something that is indeed true to the fact; thus, a better translation would be, “Since you have been raised with Jesus . . . .” Paul has made various affirmations about the status or relationship between Christ and the believer. “So, then just as you received Christ . . . .” (2:6); “you have been given fullness in Christ . . ..” (2:10); “God made you alive with Christ . . . ” (2:13); “Since you died with Christ . . . ” (2:20). And now, “Since you have been raised with Christ.” The believer being bound with Christ also means he or she shares in his resurrection. The believer has also been raised with Christ! This truth is not quite visible now, at least not in its fullness. You see, Paul says that our lives are hidden with Christ in God. Thus, beyond our natural and visible daily lives, with all the ups and downs, with all the virtues and defects, behind all the daily obligations we need to fulfill, there is something of a mystery: our lives are in God, hidden in Christ.
There is a major reason why Paul felt compelled to say this to the Colossians. Many in the Colossian society were seeking to have transcendental experiences with the help of shamans, sorcerers, and mediums. During Paul’s time, some people claimed to have found ways to penetrate the spirit world through their long training or special knowledge. Those seeking to have out-of-body experiences or who wanted to have an encounter with their spirit guardians allowed themselves to be led through incantations, ceremonial dance, or sacrificial rituals by those experts. These people wanted somehow to embody aspects of the divine. They wanted to experience or discover the “god” in them. Aren’t these some of the same ideas proposed today by psychics, mediums, and other gurus? Paul wanted the Colossians to realize how great an advantage they already had by being in Christ. Their lives are hidden in the one who is the full embodiment of the invisible, eternal, and creator God. But more importantly, that their lives are in God. They are not required to look for the god in them; their life is in God through their bond with Christ.
In light of that, Paul proceeds to expound how they should live their lives in the status of being raised with Christ. It is important for us to notice why Paul has to insist on the kind of life expected from the Colossians. The simple reason is because the fact of being raised with Christ does not automatically produce the expected life independent of the believer’s will to pursue it. The believer can claim being raised with Christ, yet it could be that his or her life might not reflect it. It could be that the believer has been baptized, but that his or her life continues to be according to the old and sinful nature. Therefore, what follows are Paul’s practical instructions on how to live a life that has been raised with Christ.
- Seeking the things that are above
Christians are scoffed at for being disinterested in the world’s affairs. Thus the saying: “Being so heavenly minded that they are earthly no good.” But here Paul clearly indicates that in order to be of earthly good we must be heavenly minded. Paul’s definition of being spiritual means being Christ-minded in everything we do. This is even clearer in the last verse of our passage for today: And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Thus, Paul’s command to seek the things that are above is in fact the command to discern God’s will for everything in our lives.
Paul calls us to refrain from setting our mind on the things that are on earth. And this is not only wise advice; it is gospel. Jesus said, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). I don’t think anyone who has only pursued earthly things has ever felt satisfied. Human appetite, want, and desire for earthly things are insatiable, unending.
This week I searched for a book which reflects one aspect of this profound theological truth: the on-going desire for something else.
[Read the first couple of pages of the book, When You Give a Mouse a Cookie).] When God has given you a house, then you want a backyard deck. When you get to build the deck, then you want . . . . When God gives the tool you need to do a job, then you want a toolshed to store it in, and when you have built the toolshed then you want more tools to fill the toolshed. This attitude towards getting something and wanting more after that one is applicable to many other things we believe we need in life. Besides the never-ending desire of getting more stuff and making us prey to the consumerist spirit of this world, we also fail to be firmly grounded and established in Christ. In pursuit of the things on earth, the believer’s heart drifts away from his or her aim of living the resurrected life in Christ.
One other aspect about setting our minds to things on this earth is of simply following the patterns of the world, which Paul admonishes against in Romans 12, verse one: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
- Put to death the old nature
Paul’s second command in order to live the new life of being raised with Christ is to put to death the sinful practices. Sexual immorality is at the head of Paul’s list of five vices to be abandoned. The Greek “pornea” includes all kinds of sexual immorality—fornication, adultery, sexual relations with prostitutes, and every kind of immorality. This sin is followed by “impurity,” which is closely related to the first. And then come passions, evil desires, and greed, which Paul also defines as idolatry. Paul attests that God’s wrath is coming upon all those who practice such things. The Colossians used to practice those things before they were raised with Christ. Sexual immorality was common within the Colossian society because it was part of their cultic practices. Following this list of five vices, Paul gives another list of another five more insidious sins: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language. The believer was not only to abandon the more conspicuous sins of sexual immorality, the believer must also abandon such other sins as anger, gossip, and abusive language. It is clear that these two lists of sins do not exhaust all the sins we should avoid.
I struggle with envy. And that sin is not explicitly listed in our passage. It is not hard for me to believe that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. It is easy for me to believe that this or that job might be easier than being a pastor or that such and such a church would be easier to work with. I continue to struggle with sin. What is the sin you struggle with? It might not be envy like mine, but something else. The list includes anger, which we know what the means of. Malice is the desire of wanting evil or misfortune to come upon another person. And the remaining three have to do with speech: lies, gossip and abusive language. We are called to get rid of these vices. They do not reflect the life of our being raised with Christ.
Our words should reveal the gracefulness of Jesus when we speak. Our words should be sincere and in love.
- Be clothed with the character of Jesus
The following commands relate to practices within the church. The church is God’s new humanity. We are God’s chosen people and for that reason, we ought to wear a special garment, which is the garment of Christ’s character. We have been set apart by God. We have been loved by the Father. Thus, in this new family, compassion and kindness should be our defining characteristics. These two ways of showing God’s love should motivate us in everything we do. The following three characteristics focus on personal attitude. Humility, meekness, which is closely related the humility, and patience are what should define our attitude. It is patience that enables us to bear with one another. Forgiveness flows out from our consciousness of having been forgiven.
If Paul’s call towards sin is that of getting rid of it, the action he calls with respect to love is that we put it on like we do our clothes. Dress up with love, because love binds all things together. Harmony is the fruit of unity, and unity is the result of love.
Someone, once said that there are two ways to unite things together. The first is by freezing things together. The second is by melting things together. In the church, the love of Christ is what has melted us together with him and one another.
When each one of us wears the garment of love, unity and harmony become evident among us. When we work in harmony and in unity, we make visible the power of the resurrected Lord in our midst. There is power in unity.
In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy demanded that Linus change TV channel, threatening him with her fist if he didn’t. “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asks Linus.
“These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.”
“Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”
Unity is possible. Let us clothe ourselves with the love of Christ. His love can organize and empower us to do more for his glory.
- Let the Word of Christ Abound in You
Paul’s last command in order to live the resurrected life of Christ is by allowing the word of Christ to dwell richly in us, to admonish and to teach us. Everything Paul had said this far would not have any effect if God’s word does not play a central role in the life of the believer. The primary purpose of the word of God, according to Paul, is to provide admonition and to shape character. But often times, Christians search the Bible only to find support for their position on certain matters. Christians often go to the Bible to find comfort in their times of trouble. Christians often read the Bible out of a sense of duty. Bible studies can turn into a time to admire certain truths of the word of God, and believe we have them all. Bible study can become a time to come around the Bible only to see what it has to say to others. But how many times have we consulted the Bible to find correction after we know we failed to show Christ’s character? How often do we search the Bible for guidance when we are about to make a big decision? When was the last time we went to the Bible seeking God’s help to reflect him clearer to our friends?
God wants to remind us that the life of being raised with Christ begins by seeking his will in everything in life. It requires us to abandon sin in all its forms. It is by putting on the character of Jesus as we wear our clothes. It is by letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly. It is by giving thanks to God. It is by doing everything, words and deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Since we have been raised with Christ, let us go and live the Easter life in him. Amen.
 Laura Joffe Numeroff/Scholastic Inc./1985 [Is there a superscript 1 indicating within your text that you are documenting something? I may just not be seeing it.]